Dealing with calendar clashes
How Gulf Racing overcame a change in personnel to finish second in Shanghai
We all know how frustrating it can be when things that we want – or have – to do are scheduled at the same time in different places, and motorsport is no different. From the likes of the FIA trying to plan international championships that don’t have date clashes, to drivers racing for a living hoping that job offers don’t make them have to choose between events, there are always going to be difficult moments to overcome. It’s even more frustrating, for a driver at least, when matters outside of racing dictate whether you are in the cockpit or not.
The Gulf Racing team faced this at the recent ‘flyaway’ events in Japan and China, with our intrepid leader, Mike Wainwright, unable to make the trips east, causing not only racer’s frustration for him, but also requiring the team to find substitutes to partner myself and Nick Foster.
And it’s not just a case of throwing any available driver into the line-up either. Quite apart from any commercial or brand issues that may need to be overcome, the replacement needs, ideally, to be a good fit for the team and, even better, familiar with the type of car they’ll be racing. The Gulf team did an excellent job on that front, bringing in American Mike Hedlund for Fuji and Khaled Al Qubaisi for Shanghai. Both are experienced Porsche racers with at least one Le Mans 24 Hours behind them. They definitely weren’t out of place in the World Endurance Championship, and that helped make it an easy transition for both parties.
Being a British team, it helped that both drivers had good command of the Queen’s English, not just in communicating what they wanted from the car – set-up changes, seat positions and the like – but also because it makes radio chatter during the race easier to understand. You can imagine that, even with the quality of modern pit-to-car radio, the noise in a closed cockpit can make it hard for both team and driver to hear what is being said, and unfamiliar accents – and a lack of facial cues normally seen in face-to-face conversation – only exacerbate that difficulty.
I know from my time racing for foreign teams in both the Porsche Carrera Cup in Germany and the F1-supporting Porsche Supercup that people only speak your language when they want to or have to. They’re not being rude, as they are doing what’s best for the team in that moment, and trying to give instructions in a foreign language, or more than one language, when it is not necessary is pointless. As the outsider, you can’t afford to feel like you’re being excluded, even if you think you are missing out on being part of the process of making improvements to the car, or whatever.
The real key is making sure that everyone is as comfortable as possible in the team environment. If a driver feels at ease, they will also be more relaxed behind the wheel, and that is only good for their performance on the track. It’s part of my role to help integrate any newcomer to the line-up, and transparency is vital in making them feel at home. Luckily, Mike and Khaled had a lot in common with myself and Nick, and Mike Wainwright too, in that, as well as knowing what they wanted from the
#86 Porsche 911 RSR, they preferred relative radio silence when in the cockpit.
Clearly the team and I did our jobs well, as the performances in both Japan and China carried on from where the usual crew had left off in Texas. Unfortunately we were denied a good result at
Fuji because of some pretty severe weather, and the misfortune of losing a lap to the safety car at just the wrong time. However, we more than made up for that in China, with Khaled joining Nick and myself on the second step of the podium, improving on the third place Nick and I achieved with Mike Wainwright in Mexico in September.